Public Housing #SmokingBan – Ban on Privacy?





Announced today that the Department of Housing and Urban Development will propose a rule banning any and all smoking in public housing nationwide.  This would include in apartments and public/common areas.

Smoking is already prohibited in the lobbies and hallways of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).  NYCHA housing includes 400,000 people in about 178,000 apartments throughout the city.

  • There is ample evidence that a smoking ban would save $millions in healthcare costs, and building maintenance.
  • There is no doubt that most non-smokers in public housing would support this new restriction.
  • And it’s hard to argue that there’s any good reason for people to be smoking period. We in public health pronounce the new regulations as a victory – a step forward.

But there is a profound rub.

Once again we’re targeting and regulating the lives of those we most easily can – the poor.  To live in public housing, or receive Medicaid assistance, or food stamps – to participate in the US social welfare system – you surrender just about all your private information – your privacy.

And each surrender is a loss of sense of self – dignity.

By example, I recall speaking to a group of East Harlem residents about privacy and security of health information they may transmit on their  mobile phones.  As often happens doing ethnography one of the insights I took away, what Goffman calls “intimacy trophies”, was that these folks clearly saw that “privacy” was a privilege of “the haves”.  They had given up  all their personal and family information to get government assistance.

When one man proclaimed that the mobile phone he had as part of his assistance program was used by the government to “track” him – the others nodded – this was certainly within the realm of the real and possible to them.

So, yes, a smoking ban in public housing will likely save lives and dollars.

But is it good public health?


Erving Goffman. 1956. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.

24 replies
  1. Thartney
    Thartney says:

    Once again we’re targeting and regulating the lives of those we most easily can – the poor.
    ‘To live in public housing, or receive Medicaid assistance, or food stamps – to participate in the US social welfare system – you surrender just about all your private information – your privacy.”

    I agree and disagree with the smoking ban policy. The quote above is true but is it a bad thing? The people using these social welfare programs are apart of a government run system that needs to be regulated.There is a fine line between regulating government programs and taking advantage of the poor. The no smoking in public housing is a case of taking advantage of the poor. Why public housing and not residential buildings? The reason why this would go into effect is because the the government and the (higher ups) know that they have control over the people that use their housing services. The public housing units (espetially in NYC) are valuable properties to people of lower SES. They don’t have any other options for affordable housing so they will take whatever is provided, leaving them vulnerable to being taken advantage of.

    As we know,nothing good comes out of smoking. It is terrible for a persons health and no child deserves to grow up in a “smokey” environment. These factors do not make it okay for the (higher ups) to make the choice to change these behaviors for them because they need assistance. Less smoking always means good public health but abusing powers in order to achieve health goals does not make for good public health.

    An idea that might still lower smoking rates would be to have residents be able to choose a smoking or non smoking building. The residents would make the chioce so banter about smoking usage within housing units would disappear. If you want to smoke, you choose to live in a smoking building. This would allow for the non smokers and those who don’t want to raise their children around a “smoking culture” to do so. The less “smoking culture” seen by the children, the less likely they will be to become smokers themselves.

  2. Kebera Leach
    Kebera Leach says:

    Ultimately, I think the ban is good public health. If these are public spaces managed by the housing authority they do have the right to implement this policy.

    The murky issue is not whether this is good public health or not. But rather whether individuals’ liberties are being curtailed. And they are. It’s possible that a compromise could be reached so that people are still allowed some freedom of choice. Residents could choose to live in smoke-free housing or housing where smoking is allowed.

    Those who choose to live in housing that allows smoking could be charged a fee for maintenance (i.e. repainting walls stained by cigarette smoke). Smoking is already an unhealthy and expensive habit. Give people a choice. But they must also understand that they will be choosing to incur further costs to continue smoking.

    I think this would be fairer than just banning smoking outright and still allows people who feel disenfranchised to still have a choice in where and how they live.

  3. Megan Kriaris
    Megan Kriaris says:

    Being a non-smoker, I understand the concerns and issues that arise with people smoking in condensed areas and impacting the health of others. However, like Juan stated below, this does infringe on the individuals rights to smoke in their own home and property (even if it is leased). For those that live in apartment buildings, areas where you can smoke in Manhattan is already limiting with the policies, making it very difficult to smoke in the city. While the ban states that it is for the health of others, it also states that is for saving money for the system. Because this law is beneficial for the state and is a seemingly quick fix, this is the issue that the policy makers focus on instead of the other problems that face these poorer individuals that are just as life-threatening, if not more. Additionally, if they are going to show these already disadvantaged individuals that they are not trying to restrict their freedoms, they can come up with a smoking zone so that these individuals can still smoke by their houses. Those that are targeted in this proposal already face many restrictions and additional barriers that many do not face. It is important for policymakers to also understand the concerns and fears of the population that they are impacting, and potentially come up with an alternative solution that can benefit both parties.

  4. Juan Gago
    Juan Gago says:

    At first sight, the public housing #smokingban seems to affect other fundamental rights, such as the right to privacy and autonomy. I have been recently researching about the concepts of “legal awareness” and ” legal literacy”. They are defined as the empowerment of the people regarding issues related to the law and rights. In some way, these terms are parallel to the concept of health literacy, since the promotion of knowledge in an area helps to build more informed and empowered citizens. As Adam was saying in the comment above, one important step that we need to take is promoting a more democratic model for discussing the public health interventions. Having more participation of the people affected, and being these people more informed about their rights and their health, will certainly bring more democratic debates in the public health arena.

  5. Nicole Margarella
    Nicole Margarella says:

    I agree with Laura here, if the low income people in affordable housing are being targeted, then maybe those are the people that should be voting on whether or not a ban in their building is something they want. Plenty of other things can kill you in life that are very legal, such as effects from alcohol & even the poor nutrition habits made very possible by the prevalence of fast food and convenience stores in neighborhoods like this where there is a lack of healthy food choice availability. At the same time, making laws that don’t allow these items into public housing would be ridiculous and unfair to those people as well. If you use the argument that smoking is impacting those around them, these other items aren’t necessarily locked up and hidden from individuals as well. While I would agree that making a public health law like that appears to be beneficial to everyone involved, I also am not someone that’s ever lived in public housing, or has ever smoked, and would not necessarily understand the temptations. While looking at unintended consequences, the example Laura had mentioned where the cigarette may be the only escape or relaxation for a person; it might prevent them from arguments, or fights, and uncontrollable stress. Maybe learning other ways of dealing with stress could be an important tool to implement along with this law to the residents of public housing. Also, there is the unfair target to the poor population here that shouldn’t be ignored. If you were to implement this law in public housing, shouldn’t it be implemented in all buildings with multiple apartments? Again, why only target the poorer population?

  6. Julian Maier
    Julian Maier says:

    Is taking away civil liberties the right thing to do? Banning smoking in public housing not only prohibits smoking in public housing nationwide but also bans smoking in administrative offices on public housing. This ban can face resistance from residents, and I do not blame them. Regardless if the homes are “public” or not this ban controls what people can do in their own homes. Smoking cigarettes is harmful to one’s health, but is not illegal and the ban is in direct violation of civil liberties. New York City housing better known as Nycha will be hit the hardest. The article states the NYC housing includes 400,000 people and around 178,000 apartments throughout the city. In my opinion this smoking ban will be hard to implement, in order for this to work community members would have to agree to this and comply with the policy. Non-smokers may be happy with the ban but I believe that the majority will not be, this ban may lead residents of public housing to think that other restrictions and constraints may be placed on them in the near future. Getting people to curb smoking is extremely important but I do not believe this ban will accomplish this and may even create an influx in the sale of cigarettes around Nycha housing.

  7. Laura Hirschfield
    Laura Hirschfield says:

    Banning smoking in public housing. Is it good “public health”? Ultimately, yes, but that doesn’t mean I agree with it. I know smoking can kill you, but so can a lot of other things. Should we continue to ostracize our most vulnerable population of people, the low-income folks that might be relying on the government to help them pay for food and give them a roof over their head? What if smoking a cigarette in one of the common areas with a fellow neighbor is their only escape or form of relaxation that they experience throughout the day? Take it away because they might get lung cancer? Tell them that banning smoking will benefit everyone around them and will be good for their health and well-being? Seems a bit out of touch. There is a fine line here and it is one that many public health officials deal with on a daily basis. I am not sure how I feel about the ban. Would I want someone who lives next door to me smoking in the hallway causing smoke to creep under my door and into my kitchen? Nope. Do I live in public housing? Nope. Do I have any idea what goes on in the daily lives of the people who live in public housing and what struggles they must face on a daily basis just to get by? I do not. So, I don’t know what the “correct” answer is. I think there needs to be a conversation between the population being targeted and the ones who want to enforce laws.

  8. Kriti JoshIi, CUNY SPH
    Kriti JoshIi, CUNY SPH says:

    It is definitely understandable that the new law requires common areas and administrative offices on public housing property be smoke-free. From the public health view, I feel like this is a great approach for creating a healthier social community. Myself being a non-smoker,I have experienced a lot of second hand smoking problem. Being a single non-smoker in a group of friends who smoke, I can relate with those who experience secondhand smoking in their everyday life. And I tell you, being a second hand smoker is not fun at all. Also for some of those people who live in poor housing conditions, they are already suffering through other issues like- mold, asthma, inadequate ventilation, and risk for communicable diseases. In a way banning smoke in public housing is a healthy and a sustainable approach.
    But again I wonder if there was a public hearing or some kind of agreement with these residents. Is this ban a ban on privacy? Or is it an indirect way of some sort of class segregation?

  9. Jen (Janani)
    Jen (Janani) says:

    In my opinion, regardless of who may be targeted by public health movements, if it results in overall good, then I would consider it positive change. Banning smoking in public housing would only encourage healthier behaviors. It is public health, but it is not the best.

    I must agree completely with Ola. I find the truth campaign to be the most effective anti-smoking I have seen in my entire life span thus far. In addition, I can attest to seeing many Hunter students and some faculty not adhering to regulations. That being said, I do not think that this sad reality is a sign that anti-smoking actions are not worthwhile. Instead, for me personally as a student athlete and leader, it provokes me to think of alternate solution that can better serve the student community at Hunter. If we, as Hunter students, who commute from various parts of the city were to begin a movement that focused on the “why” and then glorified the “unnecessary and wasteful” counterparts of smoking, I truly believe we could then raise enough awareness to take a step towards diminishing smoking prevalence in our target audience. Our change can the spread to other student populations and eventually reach more age groups and parts of the city.
    If they were questioned about their smoking, students will recognize that they do in fact waste a lot of money to feed their unhealthy wants. Smokers are constantly told that is it bad for their health to smoke; yet they still do it. So let’s call them out on why they do it! Let’s get them to take a step back and reevaluate! Let’s encourage change and support them! Change can be promoted and success stories could be shared!

  10. Smiley (Ola)
    Smiley (Ola) says:

    We all know smoking is toxic to ones health. We also know that according to the Transtheoretical Model (Stages of change) it is hard for people to change there behavior. I honestly do not believe this ban would decrease smoking rates. I walk pass public housings all the time and I still see people smoking, just like CUNY campuses are smoke free zones I still see students and Faculty members smoking. I believe there needs to a better approach to trying to get people to quit smoking.

    The truth campaign ads have been pretty successful in opening people’s eyes to “the ugly truth” of tobacco companies. (Please see link below). There needs to a line cross between solving public health issues and invading ones privacy or without shamming their way of life.

  11. Laressa
    Laressa says:

    I do think that it is good public health to ban smoking in public housing. The government is responsible for those people and by forbidding them to smoke in their apartments or common areas, it’s going to become more difficult for them to smoke. It is also good for those around the smokers such as people suffering with asthma. I also believe that if the government doesn’t regulate the rules of public housing, it will become worse than it already is. People who live in public housing are entitled to a clean and smoke free place.
    I also don’t think ensuring people a clean space to live relate to them being tracked through their phones provided by the assistance program. We must ask why they are being tracked. Is it because of their deteriorating health and is only being used for medical purposes? Or is it to just keep track of them? If it is the latter, then it is clearly a violation of privacy. We are all entitled to it!

  12. Sukramlis
    Sukramlis says:

    There are so many ads for smoking all around us, but is anyone really taking any of those ad into consideration and stop smoking so that there health can improve. In my opinion this ruling would be a total fail, people will keep on smoking because it takes more than just a ruling to stop them from smoking. There should be a step by step program being implemented in order for smokers to stop and change their routine behavior. Smoking is a negative habit that slowly takes take time to convert and change into a positive behavior. I do agree that probhit smoking in apartment and public space can help to improve the health of people in poor communities, however how many people would be influence to change their behavior. CDC posted several smoking ad on subways and bus stops but many people ignore those ad, WHY ??? Because human behavior doe snot change immediately or rapidly, it takes time and hard work to change someone opinion.

  13. Norma Reza Santos
    Norma Reza Santos says:

    I can’t believe people are still smoking and discussing about it. With all the research, it makes no sense due to the health issues, and deaths directly linked to this problem (first hand and second hand smoke). The tobacco industry is still around and going strong for many of the reasons there are not stronger gun laws and their are still oversize colas being sold. Welcome to American neoliberal capitalism-the market driven economy does not (yet) see the long term investments in personal and community health in their quick return, immediate profit models. 
    So government is there to help mediate, monitor, and guide us through the continually growing mountain of products to consume to a safe and sensible path that at least assure us of maintaining good health along the way. Well maybe that’s how its supposed to work. 
    I too believe the smoking ban is a victory-a step forward. I also believe that if it came as the blog suggests: “…Announced today…a rule banning any and all smoking…”without any community input, then a critical step in the community health process has been neglected: communication and community input. If the residents of the public housing projects nationwide are not being (or have not been) into the planning and implementation process from the beginning and before the rule becomes official, then it will be perceived as another regulation and loss of freedom-dignity. What follows is the all too familiar scenario of laws, enforcement, fines, and jail time; if the new restriction on their personal freedom is violated. 
    If residents input is encouraged and documented as the Washington Post link reportes then over the next 2 years there could be dialogue created to foster a positive relationship between residents, community health care personnel and the federal officials of HUD.
    Also, if an educational campaign comes to them directly-to their building-like the one that was mounted during the national effort against cigarettes it could have the effect of making them feel important, empowerment, and self-worth-dignity. If the government comes to my residence to explain directly the health issues linked to smoking for me and any family then someone cares and I should listen. 
    The emphasis, I believe, should be on education and professional healthcare assistance for cases of addiction. The poor do not have the educational opportunities of the higher socioeconomic clases. The wealthy do not smoke anymore. They are aware of the dangers and long term effects; they have heard and listened to the warnings. Education does not just expose the health issues and addiction, it offers alternatives and strategies for a long term healthy lifestyle. 
    At an earlier time in history, “privacy was a privilege of the haves.”  However, now everyone is trackable and private information retrievable through the modern communication systems-even the wealthy. Unless, you only deal in cash without bank accounts, credit cards, phones, computers, identifications, green cards, drivers license, address tied to your name, receive mail, work for a company receiving a check, are a non-voter, then you are trackable no matter your socio-economic status-and even more so in some situations with great wealth. So much for personal privacy-dignity.
    The ban is good for public health in every way. Where is an individual’s dignity if he or she is struggling to walk pulling an oxygen tank with a tube always hooked to their lips because of a diseased lung from cancer directly caused by cigarettes? What if a little extra time was spent with them before in their own home or the lobby of their residential building to explain to them in a way they could understand of the fatal hazards of smoking? Even a series of films, educational material, posters, etc. Someone cares about their health. If the poor are more healthy healthcare costs are reduce for everyone. Educate!  
    . If a segment of society is not allowed access to quality education, then they are being thrown to the pit to be prayed upon by the corporations-be it beverage, food, tobacco, alcohol , etc. 
    It is so refreshing to walk or run in Central Park now since the self-enforced ban of no smoking in the park was initiated under the Bloomberg administration.
    It is time. “It is just about handling the change with grace and humanity.” We all benefit and appreciate in the long run.

  14. Sandrine konan
    Sandrine konan says:

    Well, this topic is really important to me. I do not smoke and I am not planning to try. I am really terrified when I passed by a smoker. I almost cannot breath so if the public wants to pass this law to banish smokers, I will be happy as a fish in a water. I learned in my health education that second hand smokers are more at risk than smokers. We can’t stop people from hurting themselves but we can stop them from hurting others. Smokers should smoke in their room not beyond that area. Literally, I can die if I spent five minutes near a person who smoke. The way I feel is horrible. As a public health student, I have no way to change anything right but I promise myself that I won’t spend my life working to change big problem, I will probably start by eliminating those little habit that not only destroy those who choose this lifestyle but even those who tried to take care of their body. Banishing smoking in public housing should definitely be a public health new duty.

  15. OptimusPrime
    OptimusPrime says:

    When I first heard of this proposal, I immediately thought it was an attack on the people who live in the public housing units, which are often underfunded and in desperate need of repairs to begin with. I want to think that the housing agencies providing much-needed public housing in cities where affordable housing is a rarity, like New York City, would think twice about widening restrictions to tenants who already have limited resources. And it’s quite obvious that, at least in New York City, our city’s public housing developments were more often results of neoliberal, racist policies. Granted, many housing agencies, including NYCHA (a NYC-specific public housing agency) have policies that one may think would contribute to the public’s health: i.e. barring registered sex offenders, or people who produce illegal controlled substances in the units of these public housing developments. Many city’s who would be affected by this new proposed HUD law also maintain policies that bar anyone who was arrested and NOT convicted of a crime; NOT limiting to that one with a criminal record, but anyone in their family. So, needless to say – people living in poverty already experience enough frustrations with their economic and social circumstances to begin with. You can look into the legacy and critiques of what Robert Moses accomplished through the racist, segregationist urban ‘development’ policies that kept people who were housed in these housing ‘projects’ away from the public parks and pools he and his Anglo cronies enjoyed. Needless to say, my initial rage at the proposal wasn’t misdirected towards any non-historical indexes. Rather, a historical legacy of ‘poor-shaming’ where public officials and entities, are allowed to not only segregate but to control the behaviors of the people living under such strategically racist and classist social conditions. Remember the ‘poor doors’ the real estate developers are allowed to get away with now that low-income AND affordable-housing together are a scarce commodity afforded only to those without a criminal record? Yea, it’s really just an attack, I’d say. That is, until the past year or so at least. Something has changed in me, after thinking about this for some time. Though I am not a cigarette smoker, I can’t discriminate against people who chose to smoke. And even that has changed within the past year. This summer, my neighbor had a guest stay with him for a few weeks – who was a smoker. Before his guest’s arrival, none of the people on my floor smoked. And there are four separate apartments, 8 people total who live on my floor – not one smoked, none. I started to have migraines, feel fatigued, and groggy when I woke up. And I thought long and hard about my diet, and totally forgot how the cigarette smoke in the next apartment was affecting me in mine. Even when at work, at break outside standing next to a smoker is hard, personally – for me and my health. I would think that children, the disabled, and the elderly living in public housing may have even less of a choice or personal autonomy enough to voice their opinion in these matters…and though I agree with the people who have the best intentions to rectify the asthma sufferers and non-smokers in the building, and though I can empathize and know exactly how the smokers feel, for I am a marijuana advocate myself. Finally, I’m quite torn on the matters of more restrictions for the people in poverty who are forced to bear the brunt of our health promotional goals, in regards to the legacy of social isolation and racism that has put them there in the first place. I would support the ban if more social support was identified, mapped, and put into place and into the proposal BEFORE rolling it out. You can’t possibly regulate it, and if they do enforce this ban – many people will experience poverty AND homelessness. Do we need to cause more problems? There has to be on-site supportive services for people if this policy intends to be successful.

  16. Grisselle DeFrank
    Grisselle DeFrank says:

    NYC’s has overtime extended it’s tobacco ban from private spaces (restaurants, bars, and clubs) to public spaces (parks, beaches, etc). Now the federal government wants to take it into people’s homes. I can’t help ask myself after Dr.Sherry’s lecture last week is this bad policy but good politics? Enforcing a tobacco ban would be a nightmare. Would neighbors oust each other or would tenants be subject to weekly home checks? This would have horrible repercussions for any sense of community and self autonomy that these tenants have. Moreover, what would be the repercussions for those that do not abide by the ban? Using a human being’s shelter to manipulate them into changing a behavior is Machiavellian. The ends justify the means right? No. Those that live in public housing deserve the same level of dignity, respect and autonomy as any other individual. We can all agree in public health that reducing the number of smokers is a good thing but do not trample on the rights of the poor to do so.

  17. Hanish
    Hanish says:

    Movements supporting quitting tobacco are always good for society. But smoking is a habit, and habits are not changed by punishments alone. In case of smoking penalties seemed to have been somewhat successful in the past when NYC raised taxes on cigarettes. “Smoking rates in the city have been declining, dropping to 13.9 percent of adults last year from 16.1 in 2013, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.” (Navarro, NYT)1
    These numbers, though good, do not take into consideration the lucrative black market for cigarettes this increased tax has created. If fewer people are smoking as a result of the tax, that’s excellent. But if these people are simply buying their cigarettes illegally from smugglers who bring cheaper cigarettes from other states, then the tax has only made the situation worse, not better. Existence of any black market operation means that there is a potential for increase in violent crime, not to mention loss in tax revenues.2,3,4
    As I said earlier smoking is a habit, and, as Dr. Roy Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University points out, “humans are much better than any other animal at changing and orienting our behavior toward long-term goals, or long-term benefits.” (NIH News in Health)5 If people could be shown why quitting smoking is in their best interest and given the tools to do so, it would be easier for them to stop smoking.
    I feel that rather than working on new laws and creating additional hardships for low SES citizens, we should create more tools for tobacco cessation. In 2011, nearly 7 in 10 (68.9%) adult cigarette smokers wanted to stop smoking, while more than 4 in 10 (42.7%) adult cigarette smokers had made a quit attempt in the past year. (CDC)6 More work should be done to increase the number of those who at least try to quit, rather than penalize already misfortunate people.
    According to CDC, in fiscal year 2015, states will collect $25.6 billion from tobacco taxes and legal settlements but will only spend $490.4 million—less than 2%—on prevention and cessation programs6. Smoking is mainly an individual problem, but it also affects one’s family and community. Cessation programs should address it as an individual problem but also help a person draw the support of one’s family and community to be successful. According to a study by the Department of Health Disparities Research, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, “low health literacy may serve as a critical and independent risk factor for poor cessation outcomes among low-socioeconomic status, racially/ethnically diverse smokers.”7 Keeping this fact in mind, perhaps one good place to start spending more of the tax revenue collected from tobacco products would be to improve health literacy for these underserved populations.
    While it’s true that creating a smoke-free environment for all the public housing tenants would be a positive step to improving their overall environment, but a more important improvement would be to make sure their environment is safe and clean. By spending more money on proper maintenance of public housing rather than laws infringing on the privacy of these tenants would be a better use of public money.

    1. Navarro M. Public Housing Nationwide May Be Subject to Smoking Ban. The New York Times. Published November 12, 2015. Accessed November 15, 2015.
    2. How New York City’s Steep Cigarette Taxes Create Crime and Grow Big Government – Accessed November 15, 2015.
    3. Cigarette Taxes, Black Markets, and Crime: Lessons from New York’s 50-Year Losing Battle. Cato Institute. Accessed November 15, 2015.
    4. Tobacco Taxation and Unintended Consequences: U.S. Senate Hearing on Tobacco Taxes Owed, Avoided, and Evaded. Tax Foundation. Accessed November 15, 2015.
    5. Breaking Bad Habits – NIH News in Health, January 2012. Accessed November 15, 2015.
    6. Health CO on S and. Smoking and Tobacco Use; Fact Sheet; Fast Facts. Smoking and Tobacco Use. Accessed November 15, 2015.
    7. Stewart DW, Adams CE, Cano MA, et al. Associations between health literacy and established predictors of smoking cessation. Am J Public Health. 2013;103(7):e43-e49. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.301062.

  18. Nicola S Farina
    Nicola S Farina says:

    I do think that smoking should be banned in internal areas, and eventually the Department of Housing and Urban Development should gradually ween the residents away from cigarettes but not in a forceful manner like this. This is an ultimatum that doesn’t really give the hundreds of thousands of residents a choice to even pool their consensus opinions together. Smoking (which I never was a fan of) is already mentally difficult to quit but is sometimes used by people as a stress reliever or a time out from everyday living.
    These residents are already under enough surveillance with their cell phones . Big Brother just doesn’t stop watching and watching. He is practically everyplace the poor residents are. This may save millions of dollars in health care costs and maintenance fees, but is the reason about every possible city plan always dollars and cents ? The city authorities will not admit this, even though it has been spelled out. This is another way for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to bully and scare the people, leaving them with no choice to react or provide input on the matter. If we provide you with phones, and welfare money and housing, we have a right to tell you, what, when, how, and why. Is this any way to live ?
    I feel that this plan will backfire because the housing residents will not abide to something that’s being forced shoved down their throat with none of their input given. The city, I feel has a better chance to squeeze blood from stone.

    • Gertie Pierre
      Gertie Pierre says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with you Nicola. People in public housing have so many restrictions placed on them already that a smoking ban would seem like one more thing they feel trapped into doing. Smoking is a private decision. With all the data available now about the dangers of smoking if someone still decides to do it, they are already aware of the risk that they are taking. This smoking ban in public housing while a great idea public heath wise, it is a terrible infringement of this population’s civil liberties. They already have some much restrictions due to their financial situations that this habit even though deleterious to their health will only ostracize them furthermore. A great way to resolve this issue in public housing would be to implement programs to help this population quit smoking instead of taking away their right to make a personal decision.

  19. Isabella Odonkor
    Isabella Odonkor says:

    This is a very interesting ban that takes me back to my Human Rights class I took a few semesters ago. One of the most profound things we discussed was how making executive decisions for the “benefit” such as ways to combat oppression of the target population was in itself a form of oppression. The ideology that you are “saving” a population is completely unfounded, in that many times the population did not ask to be spoken for and are quite content with the way their lives are. This is definitely something that would only apply to low income communities that depend on government assistance because, as mentioned, every aspect of one’s life may be controlled by the government. This sort of “I did this for you(provide food stamps and affordable housing), I have the right to do as I please” attitude is not only immature but also degrading. We preach to the moon and back about self efficacy how we want to give people the opportunity and resources to be in control of their own health outcomes but yet contradict ourselves in our actions. We preach “yes, you have the ability to change your life and behaviors”, but act “well…under these restrictions”.

    These same individuals who are suffering disproportionally from health diseases such as BP, DM, and obesity are the same minorities who have been targeted time and time again by policies such as this and the attempted soda ban from the Bloomberg administration. How are minorities suppose to trust and confide in the government and health care systems when they are not being treated fairly? Personally, I know many individuals of Black and Hispanic background (who make up a large portion of the NYCHA residences) who distrust anything systematic or institutionalized because of incidences like the tuskegee experiment. This “by force” strategy to stop smoking will only make individuals less likely to abide or quite smoking, in my opinion.

    There are definitely better ways to get our point across as Public Health personnel. Banning smoking in other public areas has not completely diminished smoking in the city, so this should be a hint that this may not be the best route to go.

    The New York Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment said it best:
    “You’re taking advantage of [the tenants’] position because they can’t afford a private house so they can’t smoke,” New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (NYC CLASH) founder Audrey Silk told the news outlet.

    There are further interesting debates in this article:

    • Susanna Banks
      Susanna Banks says:

      Isabella, thanks so much for bringing up Tuskegee. I think it is essential to view actions like this is the context of hundreds of years of oppressive control of poor communities of color. To expand on your point about Bloomberg’s soda ban, before he attempted to ban all large soda in New York City, Bloomberg also focused specifically on controlling the food choices of the poor. In 2010 the Bloomberg Administration asked the USDA for permission to ban the use of food stamps to buy soda and other sugary drinks. Although the proposal was likely defeated due to the power of the soda lobby, I think it is important to note that many anti-poverty and anti-poverty groups also opposed the proposal. When organizations like the New York City Coalition Against Hunger oppose your policy, you have to wonder if you are really benefiting poor New Yorkers. As public health practitioners, we often fall into the trap of forcing “healthy” decisions on those we can control, primarily the poor. However, what message do we send when we only allow wealthy people to buy soda or smoke in their homes? Although in the long run the change may benefit the health of the poor, we are perpetuating the reality that you can buy rights and buy choice. We are perpetuating the idea that poor people should not be allowed to make decisions for themselves.

      McGeehan, Patrick. U.S. Rejects Mayor’s Plan to Ban Use of Food Stamps to Buy Soda. The New York Times. August 19 2011.

  20. Mikayla H
    Mikayla H says:

    At first I was really appalled to this. It’s hard to quit smoking and it’s dangerous to linger outdoors in some areas. However, the HUD is giving housing authorities several years to enact the ban. Furthermore, they are waiting to issue a final rule until they hear from community members within the next few months (Washington Post link below).
    I think this gives a make-or-break opportunity for the success of the smoking ban. If authorities are able to support their residents in quitting smoking by offering resources, I feel like yea- the ban is a good idea. However, if they are just planning on slipping notices under doors to force people to find a method of quitting on their own I cannot see this ending well. They plan on banning smoking from even outside of the buildings– so where do they expect people to go? This could potentially open up trespassing law suits by neighboring buildings, tickets for smoking in NYC parks, or people finding alternatives to smoking that could be even more harmful.
    That being said, I also agree that this is a power hungry move on the part of the HUD. I will be interested to hear their final verdict in the coming months to see how comprehensive the plan is.


  21. Natalia Williams
    Natalia Williams says:

    Adam, I agree with you. Seems to be a decision made solely by the “higher-ups.” This then negates the opinions and suggestions of those who actually are utilizing public housing. Sure, it would be great to eliminate one aggregate of a milieu of health problems, but the infringement on basic participatory democratic rights puts a damper on what should be a lauded decision. If there was ample community participation and it was championed by residents of public housing, then could the City pat themselves on the back.
    Another thought: for smokers who live in public housing, a ban on smoking in and around their homes is further driving them away from the one thing many find sacred: safety and comfort of their home. If a smoker now needs to walk out of the complex, down the street, in poor weather at times, we are cruelly punishing them for their bad habit. It seems an extreme measure to decrease smoking rates, especially among those who are already punished in so many other, disenfranchising ways.

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